The BFF guide to Paris

If you’ve read my post Where to go on your first trip to Paris, then you know the special place Paris holds in my heart. Well this post is slightly different, although it has some similar tips (ie my favourite places to take people), because it’s specifically aimed at best friends. Sure, Paris is the most romantic city in the world, but in my opinion it’s also the perfect place to take your BFF and celebrate your relationship.

This BFF guide to Paris includes everywhere that I took my friends Emma and Pete on our weekend away, and includes, in my opinion, all the must-visit sights of the city.

Day One of your BFF trip

The Trocadéro

We’re starting with my favourite view in all of Paris, from the Esplanade du Trocadéro. It’s really easy to get to, with its own metro stop, and as you emerge around the side of  the Musée national de la Marine, you’ll be sure to let out a gasp as the Eiffel Tower springs into view.

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The best view of the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadéro.

Now, the Place de Trocadéro is a notoriously a popular spot for floggers of key rings, sunglasses, little metallic Eiffel Tower models, and knock off designer hand bags. Unless you want to buy this stuff (and I really recommend you don’t), avoid and ignore at all costs.

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Enjoying the Jardins du Trocadéro.

The Eiffel Tower

The only reason to not go up the Eiffel Tower is if you’ve all already been up the Eiffel Tower. It might seem like such an obvious thing to do, but that’s because it’s simply unmissable.

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Pete and Emma enjoying the view from the first floor.

Tickets to go up the Eiffel Tower can be bought from the kiosks in the legs of the tower. The queues often snake up and down across the whole area, although if you go off season the wait will be much shorter. There are three floors, and lifts all the way up to the third floor, but if you can, I recommend climbing the 600 steps to the first and second floors first to avoid the biggest queues.

Eiffel Tower Paris BFF

The history of the Eiffel Tower is actually really interesting. It was designed by Gustave Eiffel as the entrance to the Exposition Universelle in 1889, a World Fair to celebrate the centennial of the French Revolution. The proposed tower was so controversial and unpopular, that a petition was signed by 300 French artists and architects to stop its construction.

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The view from the south western side of the tower.
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The view over North Paris.
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The view down the Champ de Mars.

Things to bear in mind – they will search your bags before you go up, and this is both for security and also to stop people from taking padlocks and other things to attach to the tower. It will obviously be busy, especially in the lifts and on the third floor where there’s less space. If you don’t like being jostled or have any issues with claustrophobia perhaps you could stop at the second floor, or try to plan your visit for off season.

Champ de Mars

After you come down from the tower you might want to relax for a little bit. If the weather’s nice, now’s the time to chill out on the grass of the Champ de Mars, the 2,574 feet long stretch of lawn between the Eiffel Tower and the École Militaire.

Eiffel Tower Paris BFF

You can also grab a gauffre (waffle) or crêpe (pancake) from one of the many stands you always find in Parisian public green spaces. My personal favourite filling is nutella and crème chantilly (whipped cream).

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Emma and Pete’s gauffres and my crêpe with nutella and crème chantilly.

The Sacré-Cœur

The Basilique du Sacré-Cœur sits at the highest point in Paris, crowning the city’s most rebelious neighbourhood, MontmartreThe architecture is really unusual, built in bone white travertine stone with three bulbous domes, the largest of which you can climb for a stunning panoramic view of the city.

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The front of the basilica from Place Saint-Pierre.

To get to the basilica you can climb up the steps of the butte Montmartre, weaving between tourists and salesmen trying to sell you tat, or you can catch the funicular train up the hill.

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My favourite part of a visit to the Sacré-Cœur has always been wandering through the surrounding streets of Montmartre, especially the Place du Tertre, where you’ll find a forest of easels papered with sketches, caricatures and paintings. This is a great place to buy a souvenir painting of your favourite Parisian monument, or get your caricature done if you don’t mind having all your greatest insecurities exaggerated and exposed to the world.

Day Two of your BFF trip

The Arc de Triomphe

The second most famous monument in Paris, the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile stands proudly at the Western end of the Champs-Élysées, at the centre of Place Charles de Gaulle (aka the craziest roundabout in Europe). Twelve avenues radiate out from this point, together making up the aforementioned “Étoile”.

Arc de Triomphe Paris BFF

The Arc was built to honour all the French soldiers who died in the Revolution and Napoleonic wars, and there’s also a monument beneath the arc with an eternal flame lit in memory of all the unidentified soldiers that died in both world wars.

Avenue des Champs-Élysées

The Arc de Triomphe is the perfect place to arrive if you want to walk down the Champs-Élysées, where you can pop into all the massive designer shops. Lots of the car display shops do really extravagant campaign activations, like cars hanging from the ceiling or 3D video projections. I always like visiting the Swatch shop, the Disney store and Nike Town.

Champs Elysees Paris BFF

Hot tip: If the queue to get into Ladurée is really long (and it usually is), try going across to the other side of the Champs-Élysées to the Galerie des Arcades, where you’ll find a little gift shop called Raymond that makes a rainbow selection of delicious little macarons which are a lot cheaper and just as tasty!

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Queues outside Ladurée.
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Left: Ice creams from Jardin de Tuileries. Right: Macarons from Raymond.

The Musée du Louvre

The Louvre is the largest art museum in the world, with 403 rooms, 17km of corridors, 35,000 works on display and another 430,000 in storage. If you looked at each piece for a minute it would take you 64 days to see it all. So here’s my radical suggestion: Don’t bother.

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After Louis XIV moved from the Louvre palace to Versailles in 1682, it became a residence for artists under Royal patronage. In 1750, Louis XV displayed the first royal collection of 96 pieces of art, including work by Raphael and Rembrandt, among others. Louis XVI was starting to develop the Louvre into a French museum of art when the French revolution rudely interrupted. The Louvre became a public museum and the royal collection became national property.

Louvre Paris BFF

The Grand Louvre Pyramids and their underground lobby were added in 1989. Today, the Louvre has many displays including ancient art and sculpture from Egypt, Greece and the Roman Empire.

As a child living in Paris my favourite collection was always the Egyptian antiquities. I found the Renaissance dull and never understood the fascination with the Mona Lisa, which from my perspective, standing on tiptoes trying to see this tiny painting over the heads and cameras of dozens of tourists, was tragically underwhelming.

So back to my original proposal: Enjoy the Tuileries garden, marvel at the sheer size of the Louvre from the outside, and save the inside for another trip.

Sainte-Chapelle

The Sainte-Chapelle was part of the old palace, built by King Louis IX to house holy relics, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns, the Holy Lance and fragments of the True Cross (now in Notre-Dame). It’s considered to be one of the greatest architectural achievements of the time, and although 2/3 of the stained glass windows are still original, much of the rest is recreated because of destruction during the French Revolution (are you sensing a theme yet?).

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Enjoying the stained glass windows in the upper level inside Sainte-Chapelle.

As you can see, inside Sainte-Chapelle is a truly breathtaking sight. Once you’ve had your ticket checked you’ll enter the gift shop and climb up a tight spiral staircase to get to the upper level of the chapel. As you emerge at the top, the towering stained glass windows will reveal themselves all at once. You’ll spend the rest of your visit with your neck craned upwards, absorbing the gold starred ceiling, the intricately portrayed scenes in the windows, and the warm purple glow cast over everyone in the room.

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Hot top! Visit the Conciergerie next door to the Sainte-Chapelle, and buy a joint ticket for the Conciergerie and Sainte-Chapelle that lets you jump the queues.

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Cathédrale Notre-Dame

Arguably one of the most famous cathedrals in the world, the Notre-Dame de Paris is a stunning example of Gothic architecture, bristling with gargoyles, laden with statues and laced with intricately carved archways. Anyone who grew up with Disney movies will be deeply familiar with the symmetrical lines of Notre-Dame’s western façade, with the twin bell towers casting their long shadows over Place Jean Paul II.

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Notre-Dame’s western façade from Place Jean Paul II.

Outside the Cathedral are two queues to join – one to enter the cathedral and the other to climb the bell towers. If you have the time, I highly recommend you do both. The atmosphere alone inside the cathedral is serene and peaceful, the stained glass rose windows throwing geometric shapes of pink light on the sculpted walls and stone floors. The most striking feature for me, aside from the rose windows, is the monstrously large organ, with no fewer than 8,000 pipes.

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The route up to the bell tower spirals around stone stairways and weaves through pillars, archways and statues. You’ll get to admire Paris from two levels – the base of the bell towers and the top of the southern bell tower.

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Left: The best-known “chimera” (gargoyle), le Stryge. Right: The view over Jean XXIII Garden.
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Left: View over the Seine across the West of Paris, with the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Right: Emma and Pete at the top of the southern bell tower.

Lovelock Bridge

Want to cement your BFF status? You can visit the Pont des Arts or the Pont de l’Archevêché, known on Instagram as “Lovelock Bridge” because of the layers and layers of padlocks attached to the railings.

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The relatively new tradition is to lock a padlock to the bridge and throw the key into the Seine to symbolise your ever lasting love. The practice has become so popular that the bridges are threatening to collapse under the collective weight of the padlocks. In my previous Paris post I’ve discouraged you from adding to the weight with a padlock of your own, and now you know the truth – I am guilty of just that.

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On my weekend in Paris with Emma and Pete we attached one of those little luggage padlocks to the hoard of gleaming metal you see in these photos, and threw our keys into the river as a symbol of our undying friendship.

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I believe in the years since they’ve started hauling away the railings that are growing too heavy, so potentially our BFF padlock is lying in a Parisian dump somewhere.

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The Trocadéro (again)

The Trocadéro at night is a whole other experience. The illuminated Eiffel Tower with its spotlights sweeping around Paris are a sight that can only be fully appreciated from the Place de Trocadéro.

Time your visit on the hour to witness the unmissable sparkling lights – a “temporary” feature installed for the millennium that everyone loved too much to take down!

It doesn’t matter what time of year you visit, make sure this is on your itinerary. You’ll all find yourself joining in with the crowd’s collective “Ooooh!” when the lights start. I recommend planning it for your last day of the holiday – surely there’s no better send off?

Verdict

The three of us had a fab weekend in Paris, and definitely proved that it’s not just a holiday for couples. Book your trip with your BFF now and show them what they mean to you!

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Sophie Whitehead

I’m Sophie, a writer and blogger living in London, traveling, eating, and telling you all about it.

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